According to Martha Bebinger of WBUR, “About 75 percent of the state’s men and women who died after an unintentional overdose last year had fentanyl in their system, up from 57 percent in 2015 (PDF). It’s a pattern cities and towns are seeing across the state [of Massachusetts] and country, particularly in New England and some Rust Belt states.”
Myra Christopher is the PAINS Director and someone I’m proud to call a friend. She has given me permission to re-post her blog, An Epiphany, here. It was first published at PainsProject.org.
I’ve been critical of the media’s language in describing aspects of the opioid crisis. To solve the opioid crisis, we have to understand it and use terms that are factual but without spin. I believe the media could be a force in motivating people — the public as well as lawmakers — to take constructive steps to end the crisis. They can also prejudice readers and create attitudes that are not helpful to solving the problem.
A recent CNN article written by Lisa Drayer describes the techniques that food manufacturers use to develop foods that will be more desirable and, thus, more marketable. There’s a wonderful book on the topic called Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss.
Both Drayer and Moss agree that the nutritional needs of consumers are beside the point. Selling the most food is food manufacturers’ primary goal. As I read this article, I discovered an odd parallel between that and what I do on a daily basis, as a researcher, in studying the abuse potential of drugs.
“Abuse of opioid painkillers and heroin has been spreading throughout the U.S. population, from inner-city youths, jobless rural residents and high school students to wealthy suburbanites, young professionals and pop stars,” according to Peter Katel‘s recent CQ article, “Opioid Crisis: Can recent reforms curb the epidemic?” He continues, “More adults use prescription painkillers than cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or cigars combined, according to a federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report released in September.”
Canada and the United States are good neighbors, and share many values.
Although Canada and the United States are part of the North American family, and we feel a kinship to them in so many ways, we have different mindsets about some key issues. Specifically, we do not feel the same way about some healthcare issues.
Differing Treatments to Heroin Addiction
Canada seems to be more progressive than the U.S. and is quicker to see the needs that the U.S. denies — for example, the treatment of heroin addiction with heroin, and the potential benefits of medical marijuana.
The Heroin Epidemic in Huntington, W. VA
CNN.com recently published a story called, “In America’s drug death capital: How heroin is scarring the next generation,” Wayne Drash and Max Blau, who reported the story, write intelligently about the heroin epidemic in Huntington, West Virginia. They tell the story the way it should be told.
In the September 13 issue of Vice, Maia Szalavitz challenges the myth that the U.S. can solve the opioid crisis by reducing the supply. According to her biography published in Wikipedia, “[Szalavitz] has been awarded the American Psychological Association’s Division 50 Award for Contributions to the Addictions, the Media Award from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology and the Drug Policy Alliance‘s 2005 Edward M. Brecher Award for Achievement.”
Szalavitz is an informed and highly accomplished neuroscience journalist who applies common sense to the opioid epidemic. She says, “If America really wants to reduce the death toll from its opioid crisis, we need to focus on reducing demand, not supply.”
Detective Justin Albauer, who works for the Martin County Sheriff’s Department in Florida, pulled over Brianna Byrnes’s car in August 2015. That is a day that Byrnes will always remember.
A Second Chance At Life
In a poignant CNN story, we can read about what happened. Detective Albauer arrested Byrnes. She served time in jail, and a second chance at life emerged.
Brianna had two bags of heroin in her car when she was stopped. She says the heroin was there to allow her to get through the night without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Brianna was like most people who become dependent on heroin, in that her main focus was to avoid withdrawal rather than to get high.
Inconsistent and Specious Laws Criminalizing Addiction
In my blog, “Is Suboxone the New Kleenex®?,” I attempted to clarify which opioids are used to treat addiction as well as pain, depending on their brand name or where they are being prescribed. A recent article in MEDPAGE TODAY titled “Suboxone Underused, Opioids Overused in Medicine” added some confusion to the already complex discussion of opioids.
But there’s a lot more complexity to explain. Specifically, I want you to be aware of how the inconsistent and specious laws have contributed to irrational drug polices that have harmed, and continue to harm, millions of Americans.